The power of dialogue

07 July 2011 | Article

Fidaa Haddad’s job is to make sure that local communities in West Asia, especially women, have a say in how their natural resources are managed.

“I work with communities and other interest groups to find creative solutions to environmental challenges that are good for people and good for the environment,” says Fidaa. “This is important as those most intimately involved with the problem often have the best ideas for solutions. And women have been under-represented for so long in this region, it is critical that they be given a proper say in development decisions.”

As Project Manager and Gender Focal Point for IUCN’s Regional Water and Dry Land Programme (REWARD), in West Asia, Fidaa has extensive experience as a development worker in the field of water management. Prior to joining IUCN she worked at Care International in Jordan, interacting with civil society organizations. Her broad-ranging expertise covers agriculture and natural resource managment, small scale credit schemes; civil rights and gender equality.

Fidaa’s main focus is promoting awareness about the links between gender equality and environment. Although climate change impacts affect all countries, its impacts are being felt differently among different regions, income groups, and genders.

The poor (of which 70% are women) are being disproportionately affected. Yet women are also powerful agents of change by playing a key role in energy consumption, deforestation, population growth and economic growth. Fidaa and her colleagues help promote a more equal participation of women in decision making about how to tackle climate change and adapt to its impacts.

“Opening dialogue is about shared inquiry, a way of thinking and reflecting together. It is not something that you do to a community, it is something you do with them. I have had to be aware of the contradictions between what people, including conservationists say and what they do, and how this can affect others. It’s about reflecting about how we can jointly secure environmental services rather than judgment or top-down management.”

Engaging under-privileged groups in environmental action takes time, Fidaa explains. People do not willingly volunteer in a project unless they find a clear role and a direct benefit. There are many different interests to be considered when managing land and resources—differences between men and women, large farmers and landless people, different castes, political parties and so on.

“You could say that in some cases, natural resources management could be considered a question of conflict management," says Fidaa.

One of the highlights of Fidaa’s career has been working on the Azraq Oasis restoration project. The Azraq Basin is the largest source of good-quality ground and surface water in Jordan. It is a unique ecosystem in a fragile environment that supports a wealth of biodiversity. The project aims to restore a substantial part of the Oasis while balancing water use, ecosystem function and addressing long-term access and rights to water by the local communities.

“From my experience; the participatory approach to conservation cannot be achieved unless the necessary skills are acquired such as facilitation, negotiation, the art of dialogue and acceptance of others. These skills can be acquired but it needs a lot of patience and understanding and the project team earning the trust of local people.”

Fidaa can be contacted at fida.haddad@iucn.org